With all the modern fishing gear available today, it is easy to get overwhelmed by complex techniques and expensive lures. If you are just learning how to fish, or even if you are an experienced angler, using basic equipment from shore is rewarding and often very successful.
So what is the best fishing setup to catch trout from shore?
Over many years of shore fishing, I have learned that simple is better. My favorite setup is a slip sinker rig. This consists of a sliding egg or bullet sinker with a floating bait, such as inflated worms or dough bait. The vast majority of fish I catch from shore are with this setup.
Throughout this article, I will describe equipment setup in more detail and also cover other important considerations to keep in mind before heading out to your local fishing destination.
Picking the best spot
Often, you may not have a choice as to which part of the shore you cast your line from. This is usually the case on developed urban lakes where only a small piece of shore is dedicated to public access. That does not mean you won’t catch fish, but your options will be limited if the fish are not biting.
On lakes that have more public shore access, it is best to pick your location based on a few key things.
First, finding where fish concentrate or travel involves an understanding of lake topography. Areas next to a point of land that juts into the water, or spots that have sudden changes in depth, are ideal places to target cruising trout.
The next thing to look for is structure or cover. When trout are not cruising for food, they like to remain hidden and safe from predators. Along the edge of weed beds or partially submerged trees and stumps are good bets.
Last but not least, pay attention to the water depth. Try fishing where the shore is mildly steep. This will give you the ability to adjust the depth you fish by changing how far you cast. Depth also becomes an important consideration depending on the time of year you are fishing.
Adjust your location based on the time of year
Many lakes are open year round for trout fishing. Your tactics for fishing may change depending on the season you choose to pursue them. Regardless of time of year, the slip sinker rig is still very effective, but choosing the right depth to fish is crucial.
To start, we need to understand what the fish want, and need, during each time of year. Where they congregate depends on several factors: water temperature, oxygenation, food and cover. Each of these factors change in priority as fishing season progresses.
In spring, the water is still cool and trout tend to increase their feeding activity as they transition from winter sluggishness. Trout cruise shallow water, preying on insects and aquatic life that start to hatch. Bait positioned 10-15 feet deep will put you in the right zone.
Spring is also the time of year when many lakes are stocked with trout. These newly planted trout tend to stay concentrated in shallow depths until they grow accustomed to their new environment and begin dispersing.
Finding structures and cover to fish next to is still important. The trout may be moving more but they still hang near protected areas.
Summertime brings new challenges. As water temperatures warm, fish move deeper to stay cool. By early to mid-summer, larger fish will be found at depths greater than 15 feet. If the lake you fish does not go that deep, I suggest focusing near weed beds and around structures that provide shade.
In larger lakes with deep water, trout will be found between 20 and 30 feet. Reaching these depths will likely require long casts unless there is a rapid drop in depth from shore.
Once fall arrives, trout begin moving to shallower water once again and feeding patterns are similar to spring time.
To start, you need a rod and reel. I recommend a light to medium weight spinning setup with 4-8 pound test line, but don’t get too bogged down by specifics. Any rod and reel you have will probably work. However, try using the lightest weight line you can. Light lines allow for further casts and they are less visible to fish.
The tackle for the slip weight rig is simple. You will need a sliding sinker, barrel swivel, leader line and a bait hook. The leader should be lighter than your main line. This will make it more invisible to fish and if you snag on something that breaks the line, you will save the sinker and swivel.
Sinker shape and weight are based on personal preference. For most conditions, an egg or bullet shaped sinker works fine. The bullet sinker, in my experience, snags less on rocks than egg sinkers. Either way, a ¼ ounce weight is most commonly used.
The first step in tying up this rig is to slide the sinker onto your main line. Next, tie on a small barrel swivel, which will keep the sinker from sliding all the way down to the hook.
On the other side of the swivel tie on your leader. If using 6 pound test line, use a 4 pound test leader line. The length of leader will depend on the current conditions where you are fishing. This may require some experimentation. I usually start with a leader length of 18 to 24 inches. On occasion, leaders up to 48 inches may be needed to keep your bait above the weeds.
Now tie on a bait hook. Hook sizes are somewhat standard among brands. A size 8, single point, bait holder hook works well. Whatever style and size hook you use, just make sure it is sharp.
Choosing the Bait
What makes this setup so effective for trout is that the bait is suspended slightly above the bottom where cruising trout feed. In order to get the bait suspended at this level, it needs to be buoyant.
Walk down the bait isle of your local sporting goods store and you will see endless choices. Personally, I prefer worms. Trout can’t seem to resist the wiggling action of a juicy nightcrawler. If you want to use worms, read my guide on how to catch them.
Worms are not naturally buoyant so they need to be injected with air by using a worm syringe kit purchased from a sporting goods store.
Alternatively, you can place a small marshmallow on the hook next to the worm. I find that mini-marshmallows from your local grocery store are perfect for this application.
Power bait and other dough baits that are molded around the hook can be used as well. As long as it floats, it will most likely catch fish.
It may be a good idea to bring along several bait choices. Trout can be finicky eaters. Keep trying different baits until you find what they like.
How to fish the slip sinker rig
Once you have the rig tied up and the hook baited with something buoyant, you are ready to cast. The distance you cast out depends on the depth you think the fish are concentrated at. This may take some trial and error before you find them. For the first cast, just use your best judgement.
After the cast, leave the bail of the reel open to let the line free spool as the sinker pulls the bait down. This will allow the sinker to slide along the line away from the bait. When the weight settles on the bottom, close the bail and gently reel up the slack. Try not to reel up too much line and drag the weight back. There should be just enough tension so that you will see the line begin to tighten and the rod tip bounce as a fish takes the bait.
Having a rod holder that stakes into the ground can make the waiting game easier and reduce your temptation to constantly reel in your bait. You will also detect strikes better when your pole is stationary in a holder, rather than moving around in your hands.
A folding chair with a built in rod holder may be an ideal solution.
Now it is time to wait. Letting your bait sit undisturbed for 20 to 30 minutes is best. After 30 minutes, reel up and check your bait. Some baits will dissolve off the hook within this time. Rebait if necessary and cast again.
If the fish are not biting, I like to slowly retrieve the bait a couple feet at a time. Pause for a few minutes between each move. Sometimes this movement will encourage fish to strike.
When you finally get a nibble, be patient. Let the fish pull the bait for a little while before setting the hook. If you reeled up too much slack and the fish detects tension in the line, it will spit out the bait.
Other setups to try if the slip sinker rig fails
The slip sinker rig is not going to guarantee success. For the rare times that the fish are not cooperating, here are a few other methods I try to entice a bite.
Spoons and Spinners
My first choice of trout spoons is a silver Acme Little Cleo. For spinners, a black and silver Worden’s Rooster Tail or a silver Blue Fox Classic Vibrax are my go-to choices.
For both lures, cast them out and let them sink for a bit. But try not to let them sink all the way to the bottom, otherwise you will snag or drag in weeds, which is unappetizing to hungry fish. A little experimentation may be needed. After the spoon or spinner sinks to the desired depth, give it a quick jerk to start the spinning action and begin your retrieve.
Vary the retrieve speed until you start getting trout to strike. Make sure that you are reeling in the lure at a speed that gives it the proper action. The blade on a spinner should spin while traveling through the water.
Don’t be afraid to cast multiple times in the same spot. Fish are always on the move and it could take a few casts to get their attention. Also, walk up and down the shoreline as you cast. Try to find structure and pull your lure parallel to a fallen tree or point of land.
In places where there is a rapid increase in water depth, use heavier lures. 1/4 to 3/8 ounce versions are sufficient for most deep water.
Bobbers are still around for a reason, because they catch fish. They also make for a very kid friendly approach to fishing. See my post about taking kids fishing.
You may think a bobber is for beginners, but used with a few tweaks, it can be down right fun.
The standard red and white bobbers or other clip on types work well for shallow water fishing. With this style setup you generally want the bait suspended below the bobber 18-36 inches. Occasionally, you can go deeper but it will be very difficult to cast without getting tangled.
To rig it up, tie on a bait hook similar to the one described for the slip sinker rig, then, place a small lead split shot weight about 12 inches above the hook. Next, clip on the bobber to the desired depth. Use a bait of your choice, again, most of my success comes from using worms.
To reach fish in deeper water, you will need to transition to a slip bobber. Instead of a clip on bobber, which is stationary on the line, a slip bobber can slide up and down the line. The depth at which your bait is suspended is controlled by a bobber stop.
Setup is simple. All necessary parts come with the bobber. First, place your bobber stop at your targeted depth. Follow that with a small bead, then, feed your line through the hole that runs the length of the slip bobber. Now tie on the hook and put one or two small weights about 12 inches above your bait.
You now have a bobber setup that can fish deep but is compact for tangle free casting. The bobber stop easily passes through the rod guides and spools on the reel without snagging.
As simple as shore fishing is, it will still take practice and tweaking to find your groove. Start with a slip sinker rig and if that does not work for you, experiment with the other methods described above. Everything is customizable and once you figure out what works best, your stringer will be full in no time.
For those of you who prefer catching walleye, be sure to check out our complete guide to catching walleye from shore. You’ll find plenty of tips to keep fish biting all season.